As the 2019 league year began, so did Mike Pennel’s visit with the New England Patriots.
The former Green Bay Packers and New York Jets defensive tackle signed on March 14. And on a two-year pact worth up to $8 million, with $500,000 guaranteed, Pennel projected to fill the snaps lost when starter Malcom Brown exited New England in the hours prior.
Pennel saw his addition met by more. The fifth-round draft selection of Byron Cowart followed in April. The return of Danny Shelton became official in May. Making a case in the summer periphery were David Parry, Ufomba Kamalu and Nick Thurman. And on a depth chart also carrying Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler, there’d be room for four.
Pennel was not one of them.
The product of Colorado State-Pueblo played late into three preseason games, and was on the field for the final defensive down of the dress rehearsal versus the Carolina Panthers. It’d be his last with the Patriots. After four tackles and a pair of quarterback hurries, New England released Pennel on Aug. 26.
Pennel will now circle back this Sunday as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Football has always been a part of my life, something I love, something that I’ve always worked for,” Pennel said on 610 Sports Radio’s The Drive last week. “After I got cut from New England, it was a conversation I had to have with my family, with myself, if I wanted to play anymore or if I wanted to do this. I think it was after Week 1, I was watching a lot of the games, I was out with my friends, and I was just looking like, ‘There’s no way I’m supposed to be here. There’s no way I’m supposed to be at home. There’s 32 teams. There’s somewhere I could be.’
“At that point, I licked my wounds and worked out, had a good conversation with my family. They were always on my head about going to the workouts, doing everything right. I was very confident that at some point, no matter what time it was, I was going to be on a team. And when I got that call, I needed to do what I need to do on the field so I wasn’t going to be in that position again.”
The Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals and Packers had the 28-year-old free agent in for workouts. Then Kansas City called. Pennel signed on Oct. 19.
Pennel has checked into four games for the Chiefs since then. He’s registered 11 tackles and his second career sack.
In a limited rotational sample size alongside the likes of Chris Jones, Khalen Saunders and Derrick Nnadi, Pro Football Focus has credited Pennel with one quarterback hit to go with three hurries. And among NFL interior defensive linemen who’ve been in for at least 20 percent of run plays dating back to his arrival, none have graded higher in PFF run-stop percentage.
“He’s a big kid. He’s strong physically,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told reporters of the 6-foot-4, 330-pound Pennel heading into Week 13. “He wants to get in there and play. I mean, he went to a smaller school, he’s achieved at this level, and he’s got a good way about him. He’s very into every practice, every snap, which I think is important. That would be what jumps out at me. He’s done a solid job in there. That’s why we felt comfortable putting him in.”
And while in as a shading nose, Pennel’s most recent showing saw him chase Oakland Raiders running back DeAndre Washington 28 yards downfield after slipping out of blitz pickup.
Pennel is currently the lone member of the Kansas City roster to have previously been rostered by New England. His defensive line coach, Brendan Daly, held the same title on the Patriots’ staff from 2015 through 2018.
Kickoff is set for 4:25 p.m. ET at Gillette Stadium.